hiddenJul 30, 2016 16:53:23 IST
By Videep Vijay Kumar
Before the Marvel movie explosion, licensed games based on Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s creations were fairly commonplace. Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America and even Wolverine got the video game treatment. Today, all we’ve got are the LEGO games. This is possibly due to the skyrocketing licensing costs as a result of the movies’ success, as well as the question of finding the right studios to make the games. Marvel games, after all, will now be competing with Rocksteady’s critically acclaimed Arkham series.
When it was announced last week at Comic Con that the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance games would be getting reissues on current generation consoles and PC, it caught everyone off guard. It was a pleasant surprise, nonetheless, since it’s been a while since we’ve had a good licensed Marvel superhero game on the market.
Mike Jones, executive producer of the reissue didn’t promise the world, however. The reissue, he said, would sport slightly reworked UI and graphics. That was pretty much it, since the goal was to create versions which were going to be as faithful to the original games as possible. After spending several hours with both games on PlayStation 4, I can say that the developers have delivered on this promise—on console at least.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance is an action-RPG—think of it as an oversimplified Diablo with superheroes from the Marvel universe. The game can be played either solo or in co-op, and while co-op (couch co-op in particular) infinitely ameliorates the experience, the game is tremendous fun when played solo as well. Players can pick up to four superheroes for their journey, switching between each seamlessly in the middle of combat. Each superhero has his or her signature abilities, with Captain America being able to throw his shield which ricochets and takes out multiple enemies, while Thor can rain death from above with his hammer—you get the picture. Ultimate Alliance 2 adds another layer of complexity with team attacks. For example, you can combo Cap and Iron Man, with Iron Man shooting a laser directly at Captain America’s shield, splitting the beam and creating multiple lasers of doom.
Both games have more in common with the stories from the comic books than the movies, with campy dialogue, over-the-top action and every effort made to squeeze in as many superheroes and villains into the wafer-thin plot as possible. Fortunately, this is exactly the sort of thing that makes Ultimate Alliance great. There are no compromises made in the use of the Marvel license, and we definitely get as much, if not more than we bargained for.
The reissues themselves are pretty good. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the first Ultimate Alliance performed rather poorly by today’s standards (but par for the time). Back in the day, players were treated to a whopping 20 frames per second on average, with the game plummeting to as low as 10-15 frames when run at 1080p on the PS3. The PS4 version is a 30-40fps game on average, peaking at 60fps when there’s not a lot going on. I’m not sure if there’s been a tonne of engine optimization that’s been done, but it’s clearly taking advantage of the superior PS4 hardware. Having said that, the inconsistent, varying frame rate in Ultimate Alliance can be off-putting at times, particularly given that it’s still a shabby looking game by today’s standards despite the visual improvements.
There’s some anti-aliasing in place, while shadows and geometry see slight improvements which are definitely noticeable. The improved performance results in more responsive controls, and players will definitely see the benefit on PS4. However, the net code does feel dated, with the game suffering from heavy input lag when played online. For a game that relies on combos and timing based combat, this is unacceptable. Fortunately, the story, roster of characters, semi open world, and fun factor ultimately save the day.
Ultimate Alliance 2, on the other hand, is the reissue you were looking for. This 2009 title feels at home on console. The marked improvement over the first game is immediately apparent. The game engine has aged better, and it almost always running at 1080p/60fps. Something clearly changed in the three years between Ultimate Alliance and Ultimate Alliance 2, making the latter much more suited to getting the re-release treatment.
I might have fanboyed and bought the bundle, and while I don’t have regrets overall, I wished I hadn’t picked up the first game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still fun, but only from a nostalgia point of view. The reissue itself is a mixed bag, with performance issues and dodgy online play. It’s still a decent performance upgrade over the PS3 copy I owned, but playing Ultimate Alliance 2 on PS4 gave me new perspective. This is what we should expect from a reissue: consistent 1080p/60fps gameplay, UI and graphics that have aged reasonably well, and a game that stands on its own feet. If you want to pick up one game, get Ultimate Alliance 2.
Unfortunately, the Comic Con hype meant this was going to be one big cash grab. The Marvel Ultimate Alliance bundle is available on PlayStation Store for Rs.4,995 (or each game individually for Rs.3,300). The Xbox One version of the bundle will run you Rs.3,990 (or Rs.2,500 individually). Yes, you read that right. Needless to say, the pricing is borderline preposterous.
Note on the PC versions: I haven’t been able to play these, but they’re supposedly bug-ridden. Controller support is lacking (with on-screen prompts not matching button presses), audio issues and frequent crashing. The controller issues are in the process of being fixed at the time of writing, but other problems remain. I would avoid the PC versions until everything is in place, or until the game is available for a throwaway price. In the meantime, you should probably check out the actually-working Marvel Heroes 2016 on Steam if you’re looking for a superhero fix (which is free to play, by the way).
Ultimate Alliance: 6/10
Ultimate Alliance 2: 8/10
Beat ‘em action is just as much fun in 2016
Diverse, licensed roster of superheroes
Significant performance upgrade
Heavy input lag in online multiplayer
Limited visual improvements
Inconsistent frame rate in the first game